Guide to the Law for Business Owners and Entrepreneurs in the United States

There are many laws and regulations for businesses in the U.S., so this is just a starting point. Here are the basics, which generally apply throughout the country, but states also have additional specific laws (Check out our guide for California businesses). Also, certain industries have additional regulations to follow. So, as usual, it’s best to speak with a lawyer to discuss your particular business issues.

Also be sure to check out our Small Business Resources page.

Get the new book for small business by Law Soup Media founder Tristan Blaine!

1. Small business and startups vs big business

When is a business a small business or startup, and does it matter?

See our Guide to the Law for Small Business and Startups.

Is freelancing considered a business?

Yes, generally freelancers are their own business, unless they are being misclassified by the hiring party.

See more at our Guide to the Law for Freelancers.

2. Business structure and set-up

What is a business structure?

A business can operate in many forms, including a sole proprietorship, general partnership, corporation (S corporation and C corporation), limited liability company (LLC), or other types.

For more information, see our Guide to Business Structures.

Do I need to register my business?

“Registering a business” can mean many things, including getting a local business license, or EIN, etc. See our full Guide to Business Licensing & Registration.

What is a social enterprise?

A social enterprise is a type of business that operates based on both “doing good” as well as making a profit. See our Guide to Social Enterprise for more.

How much does it cost to form a business structure?

Most lawyers would charge between $500 – $2500+. See more about Legal Costs.

Do I need an office or physical store? Can I use a mailbox service or virtual address for my business?

Many home-based businesses use a mailbox service or other mailing address in order to not have to disclose where the business owner lives. A business generally may use a physical mailbox service (e.g. UPS Store) or virtual mailbox service for many business purposes, including the public address it shares with clients and customers, and for most government filings. See Why Your Business Needs a Mailbox Service.

If you are looking for a virtual mailbox, we recommend the service we use, iPostal1. Since we signed up for iPostal1 mail services, we have saved money, and we love the convenience of being able to get a scanned copy of our mail no matter where in the world we are! Great for small businesses. Plans start at just $8.33 per month.1NOTE: Law Soup Media may receive compensation from this vendor if you use any of their services. Thank you for your support!

3. Hiring for your business

When you are ready to hire help in your business, you should consider whether you will have “employees” or “independent contractors,” or both. Once you decide that you will need to know what paperwork to file, what rights your workers will have, etc.

See our full Guide to Hiring for Your Business.

4. Taxes & Accounting

How do taxes work for a small business? 

As a small business, you actually must pay taxes 4-5 times per year, not just once! See more at our Guide to Business Taxes.

Is a certain type of accounting required?

Generally, small private businesses are not required to do any particular type of accounting, except that S Corporations must generally use a calendar year for their fiscal year (Jan 1 – Dec 31). Companies that are publicly traded must generally use GAAP (generally accepted accounting practices) accounting.

Get free accounting and invoicing tools with Wave.2NOTE: Law Soup Media may receive compensation from this vendor if you use any of their services. Thanks for your support! See our full review of Wave.


5. Business Name & Product Name

Can I protect my business name and prevent others from using it?

Maybe. If no other ongoing business used the name before you did, in the same industry as you, you may have rights to your business name. This is called trademark rights. See our Guide to Trademark Law for more.

How do I protect my product name?

If no other business is using a similar name for a similar product, you may be able to get a trademark for it.

Can I name my product after a celebrity?

Generally, not without the celebrity’s permission. For example, without getting proper authorization, you can’t call a new dress the “Marilyn Monroe dress.” This is based on the right of publicity. See more at our Guide to Marketing and Merchandising.

What is a DBA and should I use one?

See our Guide to DBAs and trade names.

6. Business Ideas and Materials

How can I protect my business ideas?

Business related ideas may be protected through a combination of patent, trade secret and/or copyright. These are all different forms of intellectual property. See our Guide to Intellectual Property for more.

7. Retail and E-Commerce

See our Legal Guide for Retail Businesses, and our Guide to Laws about E-Commerce.

8. Business Contracts

All businesses need to have a basic understanding of how contracts work. See our Guide to Contracts for more.

Contract dispute? See our Guide to Enforcing Contracts and our Guide to Resolving Business Disputes.

9. Business Banking

Does my business need its own bank account?

It’s always a good idea to separate personal from business expenses. If an LLC or corporation, the business must have a separate bank account, otherwise you risk losing your limited liability.

To set up a business bank account online very quickly and easily, we recommend getting a FREE checking account from Novo.3NOTE: Law Soup Media may receive compensation from Novo if you sign up for their services. Law Soup Media banks with Novo, and we love how digital-friendly it is!

See more at our Legal Guide to Business Banking.

10. Getting Your Business Appraised or Valued

Whether you are considering selling your business, or for general strategic purposes, it can be very useful to have a proper appraisal (valuation) of your business. See our Guide to Business Valuation Reports.

11. Other business law

You should also be aware of licensing & permitting requirementsconsumer rights, marketing regulations, particularly on the Internet, and other general law (see all Legal Guides).

Do you have a dispute with a customer, client, or other business? See our Guide to Resolving Business Disputes.

Also be sure to check your state and local laws. For California, see our Guide to the Law for California Business Owners.

Info for specific types of businesses:


Related Pages

Photo credit: Photo by Tim Mossholder on Unsplash


Share the Legal Info With Your Friends: